St. John's aims to keep spending under control, find new sources of revenue

Dave Bartlett
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Thanks to an initiative by the city, downtown patrons will have more parking spaces when new buildings such as this one on Water street and Duckworth streets are completed. — File photo by Gary Hebbard/The Telegram

Part 3 in a four-part series —

The City of St. John's finance committee will look for new sources of revenue and ways to save public money as it attempts to get a better hold on the city's rate of year-over-year spending.

At a recent committee meeting, chairman Coun. Danny Breen presented seven priorities for it to focus on between now and the next municipal election.

One of the bullet points on the list is "areas for further cost efficiencies and revenue opportunities."

"I think there's a public perception that every government is wasteful. That's a pretty common public theme," Breen told The Telegram in a recent interview.

"I think what the public wants is ... to know that their finances are being managed responsibly, and we're doing everything that we can to minimize the effect on the taxpayer."

He said every organization, whether public or private, can always find ways to spend money more wisely.

"We're always looking for savings, but the big thing that we're trying to do is reduce our (yearly) increase in costs," Breen said.

In the city's 2010 budget, there was a spending increase of about seven per cent above the previous year's operational costs.

In last year's budget, that increase was down to about three per cent.

While that's a good start, Breen said the city will try to find more ways to keep the rate of growth in check.

"Our target is to drive that as low as we can get it," he said.

"Do we need to replace that piece of equipment? Do we need to have that position filled if someone leaves that job?"

Those are some of the questions council and senior staff will wrestle with.

Breen said it's an ongoing process.

"The secret is your ... management and your staff have to be engaged to be encouraged and to be looking for efficiencies in operations all the time," he said.

"It has to be a priority."

But beyond looking for areas where the city can be more frugal, the committee and council are on the hunt for ways to raise city revenues outside of property and business taxes.

"When you have an issue that you have to deal with and it's going to require money, you have to find out how you're going to get the money to deal with that issue," said Breen.

A few years ago, the city was getting complaints from people saying they had to wait too long for electrical inspections of houses.

Because of the demand, the city hired additional inspectors, but also raised the fee for electrical permits to cover the added salaries and other costs.

Breen said it's a good idea to increase fees which relate to actual demand.

As another example, last week council voted to increase parking meter fines by $10, to $25.

The extra cash won't go to general coffers, but directly to address traffic and parking issues. Specifically, it will help pay for two public-private partnerships which will create almost 500 new parking spaces downtown.

"It's kind of a user fee, because people who are paying for parking ... who happen to get a ticket, are contributing to solving the parking problem," said Breen.

Geographic location: St. John's

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Recent comments

  • Don't Park Here
    March 20, 2012 - 01:50

    Increasing parking fines is an underhanded tax grab, that's a stretch!! Let's be real here, if you don't want to pay a fine pay for your parking like the rest of us law abiding citizens do. And I have ZERO sympathy for anyone who parks in a disabled parking space when they aren't disabled. If they could increase the fine for that 100-times they should. So if you don't want to pay the fine don't break the law.

  • Bill
    March 19, 2012 - 11:40

    When the City entered into the partnership agreement about the new spaces in parking garages it had nothing to say about increasing parking fines to pay for the additional debt. The 66.6% increase in parking fines was an underhanded tax grab at a time when the City has a $10 million surplus. But it is typical of the Councillors who currently occupy the chamber.

  • DD
    March 19, 2012 - 11:34

    For openers, stay home!

  • Townie
    March 19, 2012 - 08:44

    Look out Breen is "thinking". This is the guy that voted no to the budget two years ago. And it doesn't help that the writer knows little about the subject except what he is told. Where in the article was there a mention of new areas of taxation, raising electrical fees and parking ticket prices are increases in existing taxes. And what happens when the need for inspections decreases do the fees go down hardly as they now have more employees. The real problem here is the mish-mash of operating and capital expenses and use of both cash basis and accrual accounting. This results in financial statements which are difficult for the professional to understand(see comments on why 2010 f/s were late) and incomprehensible for the average person. When you can double the budget by increasing capital spending significantly, with no increase in operating costs, it is thus hard to hold the line on the yearly budget. This is especially true when councillors engage in massive capital expenditures like drunken sailors which is in part because of cheap borrowing costs. Capital expenditures in the past were segregated from operating expenses because they were one time items. The "new" accounting by combining these expenditures into one statement has made proper control a farse.

  • Ken Collis
    March 19, 2012 - 08:28

    Is a public-private partnership another way of government giving away our money to business? Why not use the money to fix the roads and plow the sidewalks. No one hardly ever gets killed because there is no place to park!!!